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The Great Adwords Affiliate Massacre Of 2009 Won’t Impact Google

The Great Adwords Affiliate Massacre of 2009 will be forever remembered as a dark and confusing time for advertisers with affiliate relationships as the heart of their business model. Educated estimates indicate Google culled over 30,000 advertisers during Q4 of ‘09.

Asked about this seemingly unprofitable move during Google’s Q4 analyst Q&A session, Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s VP of Product Management indicated just how little banning this many advertisers effectively mattered to Google’s financials:

Aaron Kessler – (Kaufman Bros):

I think there were some reports that you may have filtered out some of your advertisers this quarter on the ad sense side. Can you provide any more details about that?  - ED. Note:  Obviously the analyst is referring to Adwords not Adsense

Nikesh Arora (Google):

Obviously we are constantly looking at our advertisers to see whether there is an extraordinary [expand] that is happening. We have thrown in those advertisers who repeatedly attempt to scam users. So we went through one of our regular processes of looking at advertisers and seeing which ones of those we though weren’t adding quality or adding sort of value to our users. In those cases we chose to suspend them permanently.

Jonathan Rosenberg (Google):

This was happening this quarter with the approach we took to suspend the repeated scam users as opposed to before where all we were doing was disabling certain bad ads.

Aaron Kessler – (Kaufman Bros.)

Does this have any material impact on the quarter numbers? It sounds like it could have had a slight impact from what I was reading.

Jonathan Rosenberg (Google):

No the impact is slight. It is a relatively small number.

In short, the 30,000 banned advertisers didn’t make much of an impact on the Adwords cash machine at all. So the screams of affiliates bitterly pointing that they ’spend millions on Adwords’, fell on deaf ears.  By all accounts, so did affiliates’ appeal requests to Google for reconsideration.

Who Was Cut & Why?

It’s pretty fair to say that aggressive affiliate marketers pushing fraudulent re-bill offers could likely have seen this coming.  However, the wide net that was cast “disabling” the accounts of affiliates who hadn’t promoted “get-rich-quick-with-Google” or re-bill diet offers crushed a lot of affiliates’ primary revenue channel, while they begged for an exceptions to their bans.

Subsequent forensic analysis on what metrics Google could have used to algorithmically cull the herd points to a couple of primary factors:

  • Repeated “slaps” of across-the-board ‘poor’ landing page quality scores against one or more domains used in affiliate campaigns.  In retrospect, it looks like if you’d been “slapped” in the past more than once and just reloaded your campaign to a new domain, you were permanently disabled instead of bring ’slapped’ again.

  • If you had ever promoted any products associated with using Google’s brand to sell information products or business schemes, you were toast.

By and large, direct-to-merchant affiliates or ‘direct-linkers’ were pretty much untouched.  There were a number of merchant-of-record Adwords accounts that were disabled as well, likely false-positives in the automated sweep.

Google’s New Affiliate Guidelines

Google denies the charge that they don’t want affiliates to use the Adwords system, and have updated various sections of their Adwords’ TOS in several places to supposedly clarify what exactly it is that Google wants from affiliates.

Google has added a definition of an “affiliate” that looks like this:

An affiliate is an individual advertiser or website owner who has a business relationship with a merchant to promote the merchant’s product or service. The affiliate earns a small commission from the merchant for each referral that results in a sale; the merchant handles payment and fulfillment.

Their updated Site Quality Guidelines add additional details on one of the main sticking points affiliates have constantly been chastised for by Google: “unique” or “value-add” content:

Non-unique Landing Page: Google won’t show multiple ads leading to identical or similar landing pages at the same time, even if the pages have different domains. This means that if another advertiser’s ad leads to a landing page that’s similar to yours, and his keyword has a higher Ad Rank, his ad will show instead of yours.

What the guidelines don’t point out is that if your site is repeatedly determined to be “low quality” as a result of insufficient amounts of “unique” content, it’s possible that you’ll likely to get swept out of the system altogether, or “disabled” as an advertiser, as you’re clearly (according to Google) egregiously violating their landing page -and by extension- affiliate guidelines on a repeated basis.

Google even warns merchants who have affiliate programs of the danger that their affiliates can place them under as a result of this unique content enforcement policy.

Read the full text on PPCBlog.


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